Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy 80th Birthday Coolidge Corner Theatre!

The Coolidge Corner Theatre opened on this date in 1933 after years of opposition that kept Brookline theaterless long after movies had come to neighboring communities.

Read more about the 20-year fight to keep motion pictures out of Brookline in this two-part post from 2009.
Ad for opening of theater, 1933
Ad in Brookline Chronicle, December 21, 1933

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ghost Building #3: Brookline Baptist Church

The Brookline Baptist Church on Beacon Street was the fourth building to serve as home to the Baptists, Brookline's second oldest congregation. Designed by architect Julius Schweinfurth, the church was built in 1907.

It was demolished in 1973, a few years after the Baptist Church merged with two other congregations to form United Parish.

As with all of the "Ghost Buildings of Brookline" in this series, a part of the original building remains. In this case, there are two pieces of the building to be found: one on the original grounds of the church and another nearby.

Do you know where and what they are?

Brookline Baptist Church

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Ghost Building #2: Sights (& Sounds) of the Past

When NYNEX, successor to New England Telephone, replaced its 1916 building on Marion Street with a new one next door it left something behind.

The entrance to the old building was preserved and now serves as a gateway to the residences at 25 Marion Street.

Marion Street telephone exchange , 1916 building

Gateway to 25 Marion Street, formerly the entrance to the telephone exchange.

History was made in the old building, the first automated exchange in New England. It was where the sounds of the dial tone, the ring signal, and the busy signal were first introduced to Brookline and the region.

The article below, first posted here in 2009, tells the story.  

Check back tomorrow for another "Ghost Building of Brookline."

Photo: An early dial telephoneBefore smart phones, before cell phones, before keypads and answering machines and area codes, before much of what think of when we think of telephones today, Brookline played a part in the introduction of a major innovation in telephone technology.

At midnight on the night of July 14, 1923, some 1,800 customers of the Aspinwall exchange office on Marion Street become the first in New England to be able to make calls themselves without having to speak first to an operator.

The customers had been supplied with new dial telephones (like the one at left). Phone company representatives visited people's homes to show them how to use the new devices, and instructions were distributed in flyers and through the newspapers.

The method is very simple [according to instructions published in the local paper]. You remove the receiver from the hook and listen for a steady humming sound known as the dial-tone, which is the equivalent of the operator's "Number, please?" After hearing this dial-tone, which comes on the line almost as soon as you place the receiver to your ear, you place your finger in the hole through which the first letter of the central office designation appears and turn the dial around to the finger stop. Then remove the finger and let the dial return to rest.

The newsreel below shows how the dialing method was explained to customers in another city several years later.

Direct dialing was made possible by new automated switching technology installed in the Marion Street exchange office. Prior to the change, callers would tell an operator the number they wanted to call, and the operator, plugging jacks into switchboards, would manually make the connection for them.

Automated switching equipment was available as early as 1896, but the dominant Bell System resisted the change. Bell's first dial phones were installed in Norfolk, Virginia in 1919, four years before Brookline. The new equipment spread slowly to other parts of the country. The last non-dial phones in the U.S. were not converted to dial until 1978.

Further Reading

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ghost Building #2: Telephone Exchange Building

This building of the New England Telephone & Telegraph Company was constructed 1916-17. In 1923, it became the first telephone exchange in New England with automated equipment letting people place calls without having to speak first to an operator.

Boston Globe photo of New England Telephone & Telegraph exchange building
Brookline Chronicle, June 9, 1923

The building was torn down more than 20 years ago but a piece of it, visible in this 1923 newspaper illustration, remains.  Do you know where it is?

Check back next week for the answer and for another "Ghost Building of Brookline."

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Ghost Building #1: What Remains Today

Last week I asked what part of the old Courthouse and Police Station, torn down in 1963, remains and where it can be found.

Former courthouse and police station

The remaining piece is the architectural element seen above the entrance in the black and white photo of the courthouse above. You'll find it today, a couple of blocks from its original location, in the little triangle at the intersection of Washington and Harvard Streets.

Architectural element from old courthouse

Tomorrow, another "ghost building" of Brookline, a long-gone edifice that's left a little bit of itself behind.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

What's That on the Town Seal?

I was asked, at an event at Town Hall last night, what the squarish or diamond-shaped object at the lower right of the town seal might be.

Town Seal with Unidentified Object

I could identify all of the other objects on the seal, mostly agricultural implements reflecting the town's origins and its still largely agrarian nature in 1848, the year the seal was designed and adopted. 

But what was that object containing what looked like 12 square holes?

A clue to the answer was found in a 1951 brochure, "Town and City Seals of Massachusetts," prepared for the 60th anniversary of the State Street Trust Company.  Here, in part, is what the authors had to say about the Brookline seal:

The agricultural items in the seal, bee-hive, wheat-sheaf, scythe, rake, spade, plough, and harrow, are emblematic of the character of the town from its early settlement....

To 21st century eyes, all of the named items can be easily recognized on the Brookline seal  — with the exception of the harrow.  Could the square object with holes be a harrow?

A dictionary definition did not seem promising:

Definition of HARROW
:  a cultivating implement set with spikes, spring teeth, or disks and used primarily for pulverizing and smoothing the soil 

A Google image search brought up many pictures like these which did not seem anything like the object on the seal.

Modern harrows

But there was also this image, from a word origin blog post about the word "harrowing" that also contained the following description of early harrows: "an industrial-strength agricultural tool, usually consisting of a heavy frame set with iron teeth or tines."
So, could the object on the seal be the heavy frame of a mid-19th century (or earlier) harrow?

Confirmation came from an unlikely source: Vincent Van Gogh.  Far down among the results of the Google image search was this 1883 sketch and study by Van Gogh called "Man Pulling a Harrow."

Van Gogh - Man Pulling a Harrow

Except for being 5x4 instead of 4x3 it looks exactly like the object on the town seal.  And with that a not so harrowing search for an answer came to an end.

For more on the origins of the Brookline town seal, see my earlier post "Brookline's Town Seal: Adopted April 3, 1848."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Ghost Buildings of Brookline: #1

You don't have to believe in ghosts to find specters from the past lurking in town, signs of things that are no longer here.

From Coolidge Corner to Washington Square to Whiskey Point and elsewhere, vanished buildings retain a presence (if only a small one) long after they're gone.

Once a week or so, we'll present a picture of a Brookline building that can be discovered only on old maps and in old photographs — and in remnants or fragments still here in town.

Do you know where the ghost of the building below can be found? We'll present the answer, along with another ghost building, next week.

Municipal Courthouse and Police Station
Click for supersize view
Municipal Courthouse and Police Station
Washington Street, Brookline Village
Constructed 1900. Demolished 1963.

1913 map showing Courthouse and Police Station
1913 map. Click map for larger view